The Hometown Heroes Series:
A group of college friends
took part in a weekend cattle drive
on the banks of Lake Okeechobee.
Now, ten years later, they’re saving lives
and winning hearts throughout Florida.
Award Winning Author
Fourth-generation cattleman Luke Parker looks into his childless future and wonders what will become of the ranch he’s worked so hard to preserve.
Sarah Magarity’s job with the Department of Children and Family Services has exposed her to the worst side of parenting. So much so that the altruistic redhead doubts she’ll ever have children of her own.
The solution to both their problems might be a five-year-old boy abandoned on DCF’s doorstep just days before Christmas, but only if the cowboy can convince a jaded social worker that he’s good father material on a two-week cattle drive through Florida’s version of the Old West.
I find many new authors through sales on their books especially the ones that are free for a limited time. The second book in this series was free but I’m trying real hard to start series from the beginning so I bought Luke too. I wasn’t disappointed.
It’s the holidays and Social Worker Sarah Magarity is getting ready to shut down the office and start her two week vacation. First she is cleaning up from the holiday party they sponsored for clients. With the sound of the door opening everything changed. Sarah is about to break a few rules as she listens to the woman who brought the child in.
As she perused the paperwork she wonders if it’s possible that the father listed on the birth certificate is the same Luke Parker she had an altercation with over two boys sent on a cattle drive.
In an effort to keep the child out of an inappropriate group home, she agrees to Luke taking him on the Cattle Drive but only if she goes along.
This is a favorite scene.
The chiseled edge of his jaw firmed. “We have a roundup starting tomorrow, New Year’s Day. He can come along.”
He glanced through the open doorway toward Jimmy. The way Luke nodded, Sarah thought the rancher might be talking more to himself than to her. “He can sit in the cook wagon with Doris, my foreman’s wife. At night, he can bunk in with me and the ranch hands.”
Sarah’s breath caught in her throat. “You can’t take a little boy on a cattle drive. It’s too dangerous.”
“Oh, it’s not a real roundup. It’s more of a camping trip.” Luke paused. “On horseback.” Another pause. “With cows.” A grin worked its way across his mouth.
The smile ignited the same slow burn that had warmed Sarah’s midsection back when she thought Luke and his pals from college might be able to give a couple of her older charges a fresh start. She caught herself staring at Luke’s lips and bit her own. For Jimmy’s sake, she had to ignore the man’s mesmerizing good looks because taking a five-year-old on a trek into the wilderness just didn’t make sense.
“Trust me. My family’s been doing this for four generations. I wasn’t much older than Jimmy when I went on my first one. The sunshine and fresh air will do the boy good.”
“No. No. No.” Sarah was already shaking her head. “I know all about your cattle drives, remember? Chris and Tom told me everything.”
“Those two boys were hooligans who put other people in danger.”
“That’s not the story I heard.”
She’d spent six months helping his fraternity sponsor two foster kids on the Circle P’s annual cattle drive. The paperwork alone had been monumental, to say nothing of the hours she’d spent in meetings with Luke and his friends. The theory went that a couple of weeks on horseback would help two of her most troubled charges turn their lives around. But that plan ended when Luke had practically hog-tied the boys and dragged them back into town after only two days.
“I heard all about the bottles that were passed around the campfire every night. You stuck two kids who’d never ridden before on horses and expected them to know what to do. They got lost and no one came to find them. There wasn’t enough food—”
Luke’s deep chuckles filled the space between them. “Doris would flat have a fit if she heard that.”
Sarah’s heart stuttered. Heaven help her, the man’s smile seemed to out-shine the sun. She wrenched her gaze from his face and forced herself to stare at a spot over his shoulder.
“Look,” he continued. “We all had high hopes for Alpha Rho’s involvement with foster kids. No one’s any sorrier than I am that it didn’t work out. Exceptin’ maybe my friend Dan—he was a foster kid himself, you know. Anyways, I know we had some problems with those two you sent us, but none of that matters. What does matter is that I run a clean camp. Yes, my guests are free to bring their own liquor, but we see that everyone’s well supervised. It’s a family affair. Good, clean fun. We even have a couple of folks from Minnesota on this next ride. They’re bringing their teenage daughter along.”
Had the boys lied?
Sarah mulled the likelihood that she’d misjudged the rancher. Okay, the teens had been a bit on the wild side, but wasn’t that the whole point? To expose them to a different environment in the hope that they’d make better choices in their lives?
That still didn’t mean taking a five-year-old on a cattle drive was a good idea. Things would be different if Luke had just admitted he was Jimmy’s father. The man’s insistence that he wasn’t changed the landscape. DCF rules would never permit a foster dad to take a child on a long trek through the wilderness, and she’d be fired if she approved it. But until the blood tests came back proving Millie had told the truth and Luke was wrong, she had no choice. She had to give this reluctant father a chance to get to know his son. “All right, you can take him on your roundup with one condition.” She paused long enough to give Luke a meaningful look that made it clear the stipulation was not up for negotiation. “I’m coming with him.”
Surprise flickered across Luke’s face. Amusement glinted in the eyes that slowly traveled over her. “Do you even know how to ride a horse?”
His frank appraisal made her nervous, and Sarah crossed her arms. “Yes.” She pushed her shoulders back, her chest out. “I’ll have you know I rode dressage in college.” Her part-time job at the Equestrian Center had meant more time mucking stalls than exercising the stock, but that was something Luke didn’t need to know.
“Okay, then. I’ll have my foreman, Seth, email you a list of supplies you’ll need to bring.” With another glance into the common area, his voice dropped. “Don’t worry about the kid. I’ll take care of whatever he needs. Just make sure you’re both at the Circle P by noon tomorrow. We’ll mount up and be on the trail by one. Now let’s go see about that blood test.” And without another word Luke Parker slipped his cowboy hat on his head and strode out of her office.
Duncan, Leigh. Luke (The Hometown Heroes Series Book 1). Gardenia Street Publishing. Kindle Locations (369-407). Kindle Edition.
While Luke is sure Jimmy isn’t his son he is determined to see the boy has a good time on the roundup. He also finds himself more than a little attracted to Sarah.
I love the way this plays out, there’s lots of emotion, some tears, some angst and just the right amount of heat.
I will definitely be reading the rest of this series!
5 Contented Purrs for Leigh!
Click the Cover for Buy Links
Leigh Duncan is the award-winning author of more than two dozen novels, novellas and short stories. Her first full-length book, The Officer’s Girl, was released by Harlequin American Romance in 2010. Leigh went on to write seven more books for Harlequin, including the highly acclaimed Glades County Cowboys series, before she began writing the more complex, heart-warming and emotional stories that have resonated with her readers. An Amazon best-selling author and a National Readers’ Choice Award winner, Leigh lives on Central Florida’s East Coast where she writes women’s fiction and contemporary romance with a dash of Southern sass.
Leigh loves to stay in touch with readers through social media. Links below.